The Wall of “normalization” that inhibits Palestinian independence

Ray Hanania

Posted Dec 8, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Wall of “normalization” that inhibits Palestinian independence

By Ray Hanania

(Jerusalem, Palestine/Israel) Palestinians I meet always point to the Israeli occupation as the main stumbling block preventing them from achieving independence and driving their oppressive lives. But I think far more obstacles exist that Palestinians are afraid to acknowledge, most that begin right in their own back yards.

Maybe because I was raised in America where tyranny is far more subtle and less violent than the real threats and physical dangers facing people in the Arab and Muslim Worlds.

Or, maybe it is also because I am a realist, a state of mind that apparently continues to elude Palestinian society.

Many Palestinians live in the past. Even when they emigrate to the Western countries, they may live physically in their adopted homelands, but they remain mentally imprisoned in “the balad.”

The heaviest chains of this self-oppression may in fact be something Palestinians call “normalization.”

Normalization is a state of mind in which Palestinians prevent themselves from living in the present so they can dwell in the long lost past.

Normalization is the act of refusing to accept reality, insisting that Palestinian existence is not in the present but in the past. In this “unreality,” fading memories are more important than the clarity of the present.

Palestinian activists use “Normalization” as a bludgeon to keep Palestinians in line like sheep. Extremists pull the strings of suffering and frustration, throwing down the “Normalization” card whenever a Palestinian tries to break free of the mental bondage and address the reality of the Israeli occupation.

By working with Israelis, Palestinians argue, they might some how undermine their rights.

Maybe Palestinians haven’t looked around, but they are dealing with Israelis in every circumstance, every location and on every level humanly possible.

Earlier this year, a group of mostly Israelis involved in a movement called “OneVoice” sought to organize an event that would showcase Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. Music. Speeches. And “normalization.”

Of course, the extremists spoke out against OneVoice, and so did the so-called moderates like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas reportedly spread the word that he did not support OneVoice, and the plans for the music festivals were cancelled.

Now, I have my own issues with OneVoice. The founder, Daniel Lubetzky, seems to be a Jewish version of a common ailment most often found in the Arab and Islamic World. The ailment of “Presidents for Life.” These are people who build movements around themselves.

Had Abbas trashed the movement because of Lubetzky’s personal failings as a leader, I might have sympathized.

But that was not the reason. Palestinian leaders from Fatah, Hamas or any other group, are not against the concept of dictatorship. They thrive in it. But they are against anything that might allow Palestinians to start thinking outside of their self-imposed imprisonment.

As everyone knows, Abbas’s son Tariq is the head of a Palestinian marketing firm called Sky. Tariq Abbas recently declared in a news interview that he doesn’t believe it is possible to “work with Israelis” in the “current” situation.

Before I get to that ridiculous comment, what really shocks me is that Abbas’ son is involved in professional marketing. Why? As a journalist and former a senior executive for an American PR and marketing firm, I recognize that the Palestinians have no formal PR or marketing strategy whatsoever.

The dismal nature of this Palestinian failing in the communications arena is endemic throughout. Visiting the PNA’s “Ministry of Information” a few years back, I was handed a business card from one of the officials that had a chuckling error. The card did not identify him as a “Public Relations” specialist, but rather as a “Pubic Relations” specialist, an unfortunate typo with embarrassing meaning. I didn’t have the heart to explain how stupid the card made him look.

During this trip through Palestine, I worked closely with many Palestinian journalists, trying to help them find ways to navigate through this real tragedy of Palestinian immobilization.

Many said they wanted to attend a journalism conference in which editors and reporters of several prominent Israeli newspapers were also scheduled to speak. But, several said they were pressured to stay away. “Normalization,” they explained, means Palestinians are not yet ready to, well, deal with Israelis as regular people. Only as enemies.

That didn’t stop many Palestinians from coming to my standup comedy performances, which featured myself, two Israelis, and several new up-and-coming Palestinian and Israeli comedians. But far more might have attended, had it not been for the fear of “normalization.”

Nearly every theater in Palestine refused to answer my simple question: can we perform on your stage? They love comedians. But not comedians who dare to partner with “Israelis.”

Why not just be honest and tell the truth. You don’t want peace. You want revenge and normalization is one way to postpone your real dreams.

I leave Palestine and Israel this trip recognizing that Palestinians are suffering from several layers of occupation, and a self-imposed oppression that has become the excuse for their failings.

They say they want peace with Israel, but many deep down can’t accept the damage to their pride that compromise means accepting that their efforts over the past 60 years have been an utter failure caused by their own failed leadership. While Palestinians are stifled in their aspirations, only miles away, Israelis are enjoying life, growing as a people and flourishing as a people.

The ability of Palestinians to establish their own state continues to erode. That the people driving this erosion are Palestinians themselves is most troubling to me.

Imprisoned in a wall of ignorance constructed by their own foolish failure to see through the rhetoric and the hatred of the past to the reality of today, Palestinians have only one option.

They can either start living in the reality or they can disappear in the past.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian columnist and author. He can be reached at Arab Writers Group Syndicate,